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20 imperatives of information design — BioVis 2012

Banish Tables

Tables are natural containers for data. Whenever information is presented, chances are excellent that it is communicated by means of a table. In many cases, however, when this information is complex (and the table, therefore, is large) a tabular presentation is difficult to parse visually and patterns in the tabulated data remain opaque.

You can use Circos to visualize tabular data. It's different, reasonably easy, available online, and sure to start a conversation.

It's also quite informative.

Banish Tables

Tables are natural containers for data. Whenever information is presented, chances are excellent that it is communicated by means of a table. In many cases, however, when this information is complex (and the table, therefore, is large) a tabular presentation is difficult to parse visually and patterns in the tabulated data remain opaque.

You can use Circos to visualize tabular data. It's different, reasonably easy, available online, and sure to start a conversation.

It's also quite informative.

Benefits of a Circular Layout

Circos uses a circular composition mitigate the fact that data which represent connections between objects or between positions are very difficult to organize when the underlying layout is linear (or a graph, which can quickly become a hairball). In many cases, a linear layout makes impossible keeping the relationship lines from crossing other structures, deteriorates the effectiveness of the graphic.

Circos - Circular Genome Data Visualization (950 x 350)
From sketch to figure. The image shows short- and long-range interactions, and genome variation on human chromosome 21.

Circos - Circular Genome Data Visualization (950 x 400)
From sketch to figure. The image shows short- and long-range interactions, and genome variation on human chromosome 21.

In addition to its strength in depicting links, the circular form itself has a number of useful properties which are not shared by a rectilinear layout.

  • For a given square area on a page (e.g. square of side z), the circular layout can support a larger data domain (i.e. 2πz ~ 6z) than the square (i.e. z). More data can be shown within a given space on a page (or within narrower field of vision).
  • Within the circle, the resolution varies linearly, increasing with radial position. This makes the center of the circle ideal for compactly displaying summary statistics or indicating points of interest (i.e. low resolution data) which the reader can then follow outward to explore the data in greater detail (i.e. high resolution data).
  • The circular form encourages eye movementto proceed along curved lines, rather than in a zig-zag fasion in a square or rectangular figure.

I've applied circular compositing to represent database structure with Schemaball.

Circos - Circular Genome Data Visualization (947 x 498)
From sketch to figure. The image shows short- and long-range interactions, and genome variation on human chromosome 21.